Dark Is the Way: An Interview with Stephen Christian of Anberlin
"In song, I have sung every failure I have partaken in and every accomplishment I have succeeded at – there is no line."
It’s not an overstatement to say that Anberlin’s sixth proper full length, Vital, was one of the most criminally underrated rock records of 2012. The Florida rockers have developed a penchant for crafting alt-rock records that challenge the listener while maintaining a distinct accessibility, and Vital may very well be the band’s defining work. Chock-full of urgent guitar riffs and burning calls for hope amidst desperation, the album may be the band’s heaviest to date – both in terms of sound and content.
What is even more impressive than Anberlin’s ability to capture fiery emotion on tape is the band’s knack for stripping it all down in their acoustic live performances. Last spring, the band took their first official acoustic trek, showcasing a different side of a band already known for its diverse talents. Now, a mere year later, the band is treating any cities that missed out on last year’s jaunt with a new slew of acoustic dates.
PopMatters will be providing coverage of the tour when it makes its stop in Indianapolis, but before then, we were given the chance to chat with lead singer Stephen Christian about the tour, Vital, and what he feels is the band’s biggest accomplishment to date.
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What brought about the decision to do another acoustic tour so soon after last year’s trek?
The last one we did was on the East Coast. We had an amazing time and knew in the back of our minds that we wanted to do it again someday. Well, someday arrived and we headed west. So far it is as good as the last one, so perhaps someday we will take this overseas.
What changes have you made for this tour as opposed to last year’s?
Since then, Vital has blown up, so we definitely play more off of the new record as opposed to last tour. Also, we play different covers and have chosen a few new b-sides. Overall it’s a different show, except for the lights and our good looks.
What’s the biggest difference between playing larger venues and smaller, more intimate shows like you’ll be doing on this tour?
They both have their advantages. I love the connection that a small venue brings, but the larger shows always give me more adrenaline. I think there are benefits to both.
I know you have connections with cities like Seattle, New Orleans, and several in Florida – is there a particular city you get most excited to visit during a tour, or that you feel most at home in?
Besides those three, I think I really feel at home in Boulder, Sydney, and Chicago.
Vital was deemed by many critics and fans as a career defining record. What was the biggest change or growth you felt as a songwriter when creating that album?
I decided to give up on negativity and looking at the failures of others. If there is a negative connotation in any of my lyrics from here on out, it is about myself. I cannot control the behaviors of others; I cannot carry the burden of pessimism. What I can do is strive to live better, to think longer, and to absorb what this world has for me. I am done with viewing love as purely emotional, friends as open books, and observed failures as a source to draw inspiration from.
Having a few albums under your belt on a major label, what have you found to be the biggest gains and biggest drawbacks in regards to the growth of your band?
The biggest gain is the clout we receive when our band name is preceded by the words "Universal recording artists." The negative is the fact that we are not Taylor Swift, nor do we sell the amount of records that she does, and no, we will not change our sound to something more like Maroon 5. Therefore we get overlooked by a few of the higher-ups at our label. Saying that, I would rather be a small fish in a big pond with the opportunity to grow than the other way around.
As a songwriter who includes a passion for social awareness and justice in your music, along with your own personal experiences and struggles, where do you draw the line between those two things during your writing process – or is there a line at all?
There is no line in lyrics – I am my writing. There is literally nothing I have held back from the songs I have written. If you pieced everything I have ever put my hand to together, you would get the most complete autobiography. In song, I have sung every failure I have partaken in and every accomplishment I have succeeded at – there is no line.
Now that you’ve developed a strong back catalog of albums that feature a progression of sounds and ideas, is there certain material that you get excited to revisit in a live setting more than others?
I would love to explore Blueprints [for the Black Market] more, but the other guys seem to have moved on. Christian wasn't a part of that writing process, so it makes it difficult for him to connect with some of those songs, understandably. If I had my way, we would do “Glass to the Arson” every night. That and “Dance, Dance [Christa Päffgen]”.
Anberlin is a band that’s experienced mainstream success and also critical success with albums like Cities or Vital – is there a particular accomplishment that stands out to you the most or that fuels your vision of the future of the band?
The biggest accomplishment to date is the day we decided to join a band and get into a white van and leave out on tour. Sure, it took us years and years to make any headway, but the mere fact we were willing to give everything up to follow our passion is all the success I have ever desired from this band. If it ended today, that would still be the greatest pinnacle we have achieved to date.
What’s the most important thing you want people to take away from Anberlin’s music.
Dark is the Way, Light is a Place. That sums up the message I want to say. Not the record, the actual words. When life feels like it is closing in, know that there is always hope.
Tickets for Anberlin's acoustic tour are on sale now